, A54-year-old bike mechanic, was the last shopkeeper in his lane who continued working when a 2,000-strong mob chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and carrying iron rods, batons and stones rushed towards Bhagirathi Vihar in North East Delhi on February 24. Most others had downed their shutters by mid afternoon. Gulfam was repairing a motorcycle he had promised to deliver that evening.
A man with a distinctly Muslim appearance and salt-and-pepper beard, Gulfam ran for his life when he saw the mob advancing towards his lane. There was no time to safekeep the two bikes or anything else in his shop. He left the bikes behind, including his own parked inside the shop and that of his customer outside. Even as a lathi struck him on his ankle and another on his right heel, tearing the flesh, he continued running, with the mob closely behind. Finally, as he crossed over to the Muslim-dominated Mustafabad, the mob retreated, screaming, “ Hindustan mein rehna hai to Jai Shri Ram kehna hoga ” (If you need to stay in India you will have to say Jai Shri Ram).
Once safe from the attackers, Gulfam tried to contact his family in Shiv Vihar on a mobile phone borrowed from a man who had given him shelter. His mobile had fallen from his kurta pocket as he ran. Worse news awaited him.
His house, too, had been attacked by a mob. Although his wife, daughter and son escaped with their lives, the mob looted his house. Gulfam’s wife had got a few suits stitched for their daughter’s wedding scheduled for end-May. There was some jewellery too. All were looted. The mob did not spare even the kitchen stove, tubelights and fans in his rented accommodation.
It took Gulfam another 10 days to recover even partially from the shock. On March 7, he went back to his shop to resume his business. The owner of the shop premises, a Hindu Jat, refused to let him in. Gulfam was not allowed to even take a picture of his bike the rioters had burned. Interestingly, the bike he was painstakingly repairing earlier had been left untouched. It belonged to a Hindu customer. The attackers had chosen their targets methodically.
“I have worked in the locality for close to 14 years. I have had customers from both religions. Today, however, the owner of the shop says, ‘ Tum kahin bhi jao. Meri dukaan chhhoro. Mujhe musalman ko nahin deni apni dukaan (go wherever you wish. Leave my shop. I do not want to rent out my shop to a Muslim).’”
Gulfam’s landlord in Shiv Vihar too similarly asked the family to vacate his house immediately. Sitting at the residence of a man helping out with relief measures in Mustafabad, Gulfam asks, “Tell me, where do I go? I cannot go home to Shiv Vihar to the house I called home for six years because the landlord does not want a Muslim tenant. Same for the shop.”
It is social and economic boycott that stares Muslims in the face after the organised violence in North East Delhi which left 53 killed, 450 injured, thousands displaced, and several houses and shops gutted. Those who made bold to go back home discovered that, except in a few cases, their neighbours either gave them the cold shoulder or actually asked them to move out, not ready to risk another attack by a mob.
“When a Muslim’s house is set on fire, the adjacent houses of Hindus too are affected,” a man told 20-year-old Junaid, who runs a grocery in Shiv Vihar along with pursuing History honours from Delhi University. “The mob looted my shop and house. At the shop, they took away all the expensive chocolates and colas. They left only the local biscuits and rusks. Now I have been opening the shop for four days. But there are no customers. People do not want to buy from me,” says Junaid, hoping that one day when chocolates and colas come back to the shop, so will the customers. It will not be an easy task, however, for him. “Little boys and girls who used to come for a Re.1-toffee are all gone. And the shopkeeper next door advises me to wind up, saying, ‘Why are you wasting your time here? Go somewhere else.’”
Running for their lives
Rukhsar ran for her life from Bhagirathi Vihar when violence struck. A widow, she had set up a small bangle-colouring unit in her house. More than a week later, after a couple of sessions with counsellors in Eidgah, she went back home only to return in the evening. “As I entered my house, I realised there was nothing left. The door, the windows, the clothes, the bangles, all were gone. I just sat there. A little later, a few boys came and said, ‘ Mil gayee azaadi ? Leave before you are burned alive.’ I fled.”
For Rukhsar it is a double whammy as she owns the house she has been forced to leave. In her late twenties, Yasmin Sheikh was a regular at the protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in Mustafabad. She had given up her job at a clothes showroom to devote herself to the 24-hour protest. Every evening, alongwith a couple of hundred other women, she raised slogans against the CAA, sang songs like “Hum dekhenge” before going home close to midnight, having concluded the sessions with the national anthem. Occasionally, with other protesters, Yasmin Sheikh raised slogans of freedom from hunger, inequality, and so on.
Tall, fair complexioned, with kohl-lined eyes, she was easily recognisable in a crowd of hijab-clad women. That proved to be her undoing. On the day the mob attacked any Muslim they could lay their hands on, Yasmin Sheikh was specially targeted. As the men attacked her two-storeyed house in Shri Ram Pur, Yasmin Sheikh ran towards the roof with her mother. This was followed by obscene comments and actions. Moving from one roof to another in the congested colony, Yasmin Sheikh finally got down close to a mosque.
A week later, she went back to the house along with a couple of social activists. As she went about clearing the wreckage that had hit her house, a man whom she identifies as “probably a property agent” came up to her. “Leave the premises for now. Nothing will happen if you do. If you stay, the men will come back at night with the azaadi rant. Go away. After some time, you can sell the house. I will help you,” he said. Not ready to confront men ready to strip to harass a woman, she went back to a relative’s house in Welcome, some five kilometres away.
Worse fate awaited Imanuddin, the sole breadwinner of a family of eight in Shiv Vihar. The day the bloodthirsty mob attacked his colony, he shut the door of his house from inside and stood against it to guard against anyone breaking in. “I locked the door and stood holding my children tightly against my chest.” His wife supported his father, a Parkinson’s disease patient, and his mother.
Like many others, Imanuddin’s family ran away using the roof and found refuge in Chaman Park. Three days later, the family shifted to the Eidgah relief camp only to vacate it soon as his father frequently lost bladder control. “It inconvenienced others. So I brought my father back home to Shiv Vihar. But we are all scared. No neighbour comes to offer even a glass of water or say a word of sympathy. Our lane had only a handful of Muslim families. Most were Hindus. Today, we are the only Muslim family back. Nobody talks to us. After sunset I cannot even go out. We spend the night taking turns to guard against any attack. I have lived here for 15 years. It has never been so bad. People who used to meet and greet me every day bolt their doors on seeing me now.”
Social and economic boycott of Muslims is the new reality of North East Delhi. Already a Twitter and Facebook campaign calling for an economic boycott of Muslims is under way.
“Many Hindus had put up saffron flags around the time of the violence. I thought it was to guard themselves from an attack by Muslims. Now I realise it was a subtle way of telling the attackers that the houses without a saffron flag belonged to Muslims and could be attacked, looted or burnt,” says Mohammed Rashid, whose house was burnt down in Ashok Nagar.
Gurbax Singh, a social activist who helped rescue many women from Chand Bagh, says, “This is all a concerted attack on the community. An attempt to humiliate them. First they attacked the businesses to weaken them economically. Then they attacked their places of worship, planted saffron flags. It was an open provocation to the community.”
A day later, at the People’s Tribunal on Delhi Carnage–Anatomy, Arson, Relief and Road Ahead, the jury reiterated this. “The East Delhi riots were found similar to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, as the minorities have been systematically attacked in a planned manner like in the past. And the state was complicit,” it said.
A speaker added, “It was an attack on the identity of Muslims, an attack on their struggle to be treated as equal citizens of the country. When you attack the business of a community and also its places of worship, you send out a signal that it is not wanted here. In this case, it is worse because social and economic boycott have followed the violence.”
Indeed, even an innocuous presswali (a woman in the business of ironing clothes) in Gokulpuri deemed it wise to hang a small placard of a Hindu goddess by her table, to ward off the Hindutva mob. “I do not accept clothes from Muslim families. I do not hate them. They have suffered a lot. But if Hindu strongmen see me ironing a burqa or their kurta-pyjama, they will force me to shut my business. I hope you understand.”
Displaced Muslims live in fear in North East Delhi. As do poor Hindus. It is the rule of the thugs and their socio-economic boycott of Muslims that prevails in the area. The writ is: do not purchase any goods from Muslims or do any business with them; do not rent out to them your house or shop; do not mingle with them. Clearly, it is Hindutva apartheid that is ruling in the pogrom-hit capital.